tv The Communicators CSPAN March 15, 2010 8:00am-8:30am EDT
>> this week on "the communicators," a discussion about the popular social media site facebook. our guest is their public policy directer, tim sparapani. >> host: on your screen is tim sparapani who is the public policy directer or facebook. mr. sparapani, if you would start by giving us a snapshot of what facebook is. >> guest: facebook is one of the fastest growing new communications tools. it's a company that's six years old, and our mission is to make the earth more open and connected, and we do that by providing people a free tool whereby they can share information with anyone, anywhere at anytime. and it's turned into a fabulous
success. so far we have over 400 million active users worldwide. it's really become a phenomenon. >> host: what countries don't permit facebook or block facebook? >> guest: so we are often times blocked by china, occasionally vietnam or regularly vietnam, that started in november of last year. >> host: why? >> guest: you know, it's a remarkable question. we're not sure. this is not a company with any political agenda whatsoever. we are a vehicle for communications of our users. so whatever our users feel like talking about with their family, their friends, their business associates, that's what we do. we're the intermediary that allows that communication to take place, so it's unusual that countries would take the step of blocking their own citizens' communications by blocking access to our site. >> host: how many employees and where is it headquartered? >> guest: so we're a little over 1200 employees which is a pretty
dramatic growth spurt. we still think of ourselves as a start-up company. we're based in palo alto, california, it's a true silicon valley success story. we feel like we're the likely successor to a long-term process in silicon value i -- valley. i think we're the next step, we hope, in that iteration process. >> host: well, mr. sparapani, facebook just recently opened it washington office, and you're the public policy directer. >> guest: i am. >> host: why does facebook feel the need to have a presence in washington sh. >> guest: well, i think we have the opportunity to have stood on the shoulders of the giants that came before us. just as i said we were the next step many that silicon valley process, i also think we're the next step in the washington, d.c. process. we saw microsoft come to washington really after they had been embroiled in some difficulties based on antitrust complaints with the department of justice. they really were not a
tremendously established office here until that moment occurred. in fact, there was to some people's mind some disdain for washington from the tech community. google, i think, learned from microsoft's experience. google said, we need to be there before we're in trouble, but it did take google, i don't know, i think seven or eight years into their iteration process to bin to communicate what was important to the company to washington. facebook, i think, learned from both of those companies. we were here as of our fifth anniversary, actually between our fourth and fifth anniversaries as a company, and i think that we have taken the position that it's important for us to translate silicon valley to washington and washington back to silicon valley. these are not places that often times communicate, and when they communicate, they tend to speak in different languages almost as if they were english and mandarin as opposed to, you know, tech and beltway speak.
and we stand, i think, as the intermediary here in washington to help make that communication flow both ways back and forth. i think the advantage of that is that we're able to help washington not regulate or legislate without understanding what's important to a small energetic start-up company with really great innovations coming down the pike. i think for the company we're able to help them understand the nuances about social norms, about, you know, long standing public policy, certainly about the law, and people's feelings about important questions of the day. >> host: recently, and before we go any further, cecilia kang is also joining us, she writes the post tech column, and we should mention that her boss, the chairman of the board of "the washington post," donald graham, is on the board of facebook. before we get so cecilia's questions, recently there was a senate committee hearing on internet security, and this is what senator dick durbin had to
say. >> we asked facebook to come, and they replied by saying we have no business operations in china or, for ma matter, in -- that matter, in most countries in the world. they went on to say, as a young start-up we do not have the resources to devote to g and i membership. but here are the facts, facebook has over 400 million users which makes it the second most-viewed web site in the world. about 70% of facebook users are outside the united states. facebook has over 1,000 employees, hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenues and is worth billions of dollars. that is hardly a mom and pop operation that can't afford to be part of g and i, and facebook acknowledges it engages in censorship. in their letter to me facebook said, and i quote, when content shared from a particular jurisdiction violates that jurisdiction's local laws or
custom, facebook may take down that content. >> guest: so there's a lot to respond to by senator durbin, and i appreciate your giving us the opportunity to do so. couple of important points. facebook does not have any business operations in china, and by that i mean we don't have any data stored in china, we don't have any servers in china, we don't have staff in china, we don't sell ads in china. i think by any definition that would pass muster, and the invitation from senator durbin's staff made clear to us that this was going to be a large, if not the dominant point of conversation for that hearing. now, to the second point, senator durbin talked about us avoiding so far participating in an entity called the global network initiative. now, this is an idea which for your viewers who may not be familiar with the idea is a public/private partnership between human rights
organizations and companies -- so far there are only three, maybe four companies, now, that have joined the xni -- gni. they are without an executive directer. they have never had an executive directer. they have never had staff, and so far what it is is a set of principles on paper. designed to help companies navigate these very difficult moments when countries around the world decide to block access to certain technologies for their own citizens. facebook has so far decided that where it needs to put its energy is into is talking directly to the u.s. government rather than to other companies about how to help a company like ours open new markets. we desperately want people around the world to be able to use our communications tool. again, it's free. that's by intention. we desperately want people to be able to talk to their family and friends about whatever topic wherever and however. we are, however, skeptical of
the notion that a group of companies -- however well intentioned and human rights advocates on their own without a staff, without an executive directer -- can actually influence the government of china or vietnam or of indonesia or of turkey when those countries decide to put in place barriers to prevent the free flow of communications and ideas. we believe it is the obama administration's important role to stand in the shoes of the great companies that are coming from the united states to open new markets and allow people to communicate, and so we have asked again and again and again for the senate to act, for the obama administration to act, for the prior administration to act, and we are hopeful with their participation and involvement we can, in fact, open up these new markets. we think that's the most profitable place for facebook to put its energies. you talked about how new our public policy office is. i am one of three people, and i can't be, unfortunately, flying all around the world to open these markets on my own, so i've got to do it from my seat here
in washington. i think that's reall the first two important points. if i could respond to senator durbin's third point. again, we welcome his leadership on this. his staff has been fantastic, they've met with us many times for the many months before the hearing, but i have to take issue with his statement that facebook censors. we do not. we have never censored. quite to the contrary. we don't do anything like what google has talked about, has been mention inside the news about google over the last several months. google, microsoft, other companies like that, in order to do business in china have had to make the decision, a very difficult one and one i hope we never have o make as a company, that in order to open those markets they've had to precensor information between consumers and citizens who want to communicate. facebook, in contrast and referring to the passage of our letter in response to senator durbin's inquiries, said quite the opposite. where there is a law in place that says that certain content
is illegal to have online and where there is a report from one of our users on our facebook site back to the company that says you have an infringing content on the site, we then act in accordance with the law of that country, and we take it down. let me give you a very concrete example of how this works and how it's different from the censoring discussion that i think senator durbin mistook our answer to mean. in germany, in austria, in several countries in western europe it is illegal to have nazi propaganda or nazi discussions on online. that's a matter of law. it has been, you know, repeated over and over again in statute, it's 30, 40, 50 years, now, of history of exactly having that law in place. so when some of our users happen to see content between austrians or germans which is about nazis or pro-nazi propaganda and it is
reported to us, we act in accordance with german law or austrian law, and we take down that infringing content. but only after -- and this is really important -- only after our users who are in-country, in austria, in germany see other germans and austrians sharing content which is illegal under the laws of these countries. so it's not at all a censorship regime, in fact, it's quite the opposite. we rely on our users to police their own experience on facebook quite apart from what other companies have been forced to do, unfortunately, by rogue regimes around the world who have asked them to precensor. so i think senator durbin misunderstood the import of our letter. we don't censor, and i hope we never will. >> host: cecilia kang. >> host: your story is a growth narrative in washington, abroad. 70% of those users are abroad, and i wonder what you believe
your responsibility is even though you don't have operations in china, even though you don't have many operations abroad, 1200 employees is not small anymore, 400 million users is bigger than the size of the population of the united states and canada combined, so what do you believe your responsibility is in this debate on internet freedom, on what, how companies should sort of spearhead their own efforts if there should be some responsibility that facebook should take? >> guest: it's an important question, and i'm not sure we have a full answer, quite candidly, yet. i do think we bear a responsibility. our responsibility at least begins with the notion that we are going to provide a robust communications tool which is open and free and doesn't make decisions about people's political views, their religious views, their cultural or ethnic biases. we simply allow people to share with people what they want to share and how they want to share it.
so that's sort of the beginning of the conversation. i think if you asked in 1200-odd employees at facebook what is their responsibility, i think everybody would have a slightly different answer, and so it's hard to speak about a company position which is still evolving. we do feel a responsibility to allow people to communicate. we feel a responsibility to knock down laws which require censorship as a condition of doing business. let me give your a really bizarre sort of example which is confronting us right now. one that people here in washington would find probably pretty shocking. in australia, a first-world country, you know, where we think we have tremendous consistency between the united states and australia in terms of our social norms, our values, our systems there is real talk right now from the government in place about putting in a full-force censorship regime. we do have business operations
in australia, we've got staff on the ground, we've got servers. let me contrast that, again, with our experience right now in china. we are in a vigorous debate right now with the australian government along with other technology companies here in the united states, and we are all trying to get the government not to take this step. we think it would put australia outside of the bounds of modern communication societies, it would erect barriers that would make the internet vulcanized, if you will, erect barriers that truly create walls around countries rather than knocking them down. so if we have a responsibility, it is to help knock down artificial barriers between people around the world, to e eradicate barriers between countries and people's communications, and certainly we take that responsibility seriously enough so that we're going to speak out to the australian government about these proposals because we think they're wrongheaded. >> host: well, i guess i'm a little confused. i feel like if you were to look at a spectrum, you have google
on the one hand saying we don't agree with censorship in china, so we're threatening to pull out. it should be said they have not pulled out and have not even given a timetable as to whether they are almost two months later. and thin off company -- then you have a company like microsoft saying, listen, we're not going to pull out. you have to play by the rules of the country you're in. this is what steve balmer, the ceo of microsoft has said, so i feel like i'm getting a little -- where do you fit, facebook, if there was a spectrum? are you more towards google? are you more towards what microsoft's saying or right now a mix? >> guest: i think they're saying the same things because google has not, as you said, taken the step of actually stopping the censorship. now, i can be corrected if i'm wrong. i think facebook is finding it way. there is no question that facebook wants to be able to provide it tool everywhere around the world, and that includes china. it's a huge marketplace. we have people already in china who are residents in china who
are using our service because they've been able to evade the blocking software that the chinese government has in place. we're excited about that. do we want to be in china? yeah, i think probably, you know, any company would want to be, and i think every major technology company out of silicon valley has tried at one point or another. will we be successful? i'm not sure. i'm not sure what kind of culture shift it would take from the chinese in order to make that happen, and i think that's part of the ongoing dialogue. you see, from my experience, my example that i've suggested from australia that even countries where you think the ground is stable and the social norms and the laws are stable enough to allow free flow of communication that there can be an erosion of those things. and so i think these are always evolving moments of society, and facebook hopes in the future to be able to do business in a free and open china where everyone can communicate exactly how much
and with whomever they want whenever they want to. >> host: what as you expand your office here in washington, you're going to add two more positions, is that right? >> guest: yes. >> host: two policy positions. what will those people do, and what are the issues that they will be working on? is this a spops to anything that's -- response to anything that's happening right now in washington, making sure you have your message across to legislators and regulatorsesome. >> guest: right. we're very excited to have more staff, i'm desperately seeking more experience. my background is in privacy and free speech. those are my areas of expertise, but, you know, i could spend 24 hours a day, seven days a week 365 doing just those two things for facebook, and that wouldn't allow us to engage in discussions and debates and inform regulators, legislators about our positions on other issues as they begin to evolve for the company. so we're going to get an rad
more -- an administrative person, i'm hoping, i'm knocking on wood here, and the idea is to allow someone to focus on state government actions, in particular state legislation. and also interfacing directly with consumer protection organizations. we really want to hear from various consumer groups about how facebook is experienced from the consumer side. we've had an ongoing long-term dialogue with a variety of groups, but we need to have someone doing it more formally and regularly to gather that input, so that person's going to be performing a number of roles. i think this is the beginning of a long-term build out of this office. if you look at facebook's office relative to any of the other technology companies here in washington, we are a tiny fraction of their office. you know, i don't know the exact numbers, but we've got to be a tenth the size in terms of numbers of staff. >> host: i'm sorry.
was it difficult to convince the folks in palo alto to beef up your staff? apple only has one person here. that's a reflection, i think, towards their issues here. google has been expanding, microsoft has a big office now. you beefing up your office, i think you're going to go to five now, is that right? five people? >> guest: that's right. >> host: was that a hard sell to the folks in california, or is there a recognition that maybe you're being misunderstood, or are there some issues that need more clarification? >> guest: oh, it absolutely was a hard sell, and i'll tell you why. senator durbin talked about us being a bigger company. i sort of disagree. we have a desperate need for more engineers in the palo alto. everybody who can do the technical things to make facebook faster, cleaner, better for our users, that's where the energy of a company which feels like a start-up, that's where the energies go. and communicating the messages about that company and what the
company means are kind of a secondary question. so, in fact, every staff person who is out here in washington or talking about policy and regulation is not somebody who's helping to build the backbone of this communication tool. so there is some reticence to put in extra energy into this, and as i said, there's always going to be, i think, a residual sense in silicon valley that washington doesn't understand how companies are made, how innovation happens, and so we do need more people to help that communication take place in a more seamless way. but it's a struggle. >> host: this is c span's -- c-span's communicators program. this is tim sparapani, policy directer for facebook, cecilia kang is "the washington post"'s technology reporter. mr. sparapani served as senior
legislative counsel at the american civil liberties union prior to joining facebook. now, is your old organization happy with your work at facebook? >> guest: well, i don't know. i hope so. it seems like the mission i had at the aclu was not terribly different from the one i have now. the goal was to maximize privacy and free speech. primarily for folks here in the united states. now that we have at facebook 70% of our 900 million -- 400 million users outside of the united states, i feel like i get to do the same things in realtime with a communications tool, but i get to do it on a much bigger stage. it's not just the domestic populace, it's a worldwide populace. so if anything, i think these two visions for the aclu and facebook remarkably complement each other. >> host: just to go back to the australian example, what's the impetus of the australian government for this censorship? >> guest: so there have been a
variety of incidents over time, and i think this is not atypical. we see this here in the united states occasionally, a bad incident happens, a crime occurs, it might have some distant linkage to a new technology tool, and the first unfortunate response of regulators and legislators is to blame the technology tool rather than the individuals involved. in this case there was a moment when, unfortunately, a memorial site established on facebook for somebody who was deceased was defaced by hackers. now, there is no company which is impervious to hacking attacks to people who want to do despicable things. facebook, unfortunately, despite really robust security measures, antihacking efforts which we think are industry leading was the victim of a short-term attack on this particular vim's site. we're not sure why, we're not sure what motivated it. as soon as we found out about it, we were able to take it down and repair that damage. but, of course, it became an instant news situation in
australia, and i think it generated a lot of negative coverage, and some people, again, took an unfortunate tack that rather than decry the behavior behind the attack, they said, well, the technology tool must be the problem, and, therefore, we must have pre-censorship of all content on the internet. now, think about that. if we were to do that, we simply would shut down virtually all communications on the internet, we would block what really is the robust nature of the internet, a free flow of information, a lack of barriers to people's communication, and we would impose a really serious one. so this kind of, you know, censorship opportunity could be raised here in the united states, in fact, it sometimes is. there will be, unfortunately, some crime in the future where someone may have met someone on facebook or there may be some indirect linkage to facebook, and i guarantee we'll see the same sort of conversation take place here in the united states.
handled that correctly, sort of in retrospect. >> guest: you know, i do. as someone who went from the aclu to facebook with the goal of increasing people's privacy, i feel like we really had a tremendous success. that privacy transition tool was a first of its kind effort. there's never been a company anywhere that's tried anything like this. we designed a program to make every one of our 400 million users stop and think about privacy at least once and for a period of time before they did anything else on our site. and no company's ever asked their users to do that. certainly not a company with 400 million customers. as a result, our users, almost 50% of them, now have customized their privacy settings. now, the industry standard if you read literature about this is that -- and this is only when data is released -- said somewhere between 4-8% will edit their privacy settings if there
are any, so the fact that we've got 50% of our users to actually stop and say privacy's important to us, i'm going to control my data and i've now been given tools by facebook to do so, i think, is something that makes this the greatest corporate privacy effort in history. i don't think there's anything that compares to it. and i think of it as a huge success. so if i could just mention what our customers thought about it. there was a lot of press reporting that suggested at the time that we were going to have a major backlash. i think quite the opposite. i think our consumers have shown that they really embraced the fact that facebook was being open and candid about how data was being used. it really puts us, i think, in juxtaposition with other companies, and i think our users understood by being honest with them and giving them tools to control their data that we were on their side, and we wanted them to have the experience on facebook that they wanted to have. as a result, we saw almost no
dropoff in user activity. in fact, quite the opposite. we've seen an extraordinary spike in people joining the site and people's activity who were already members. so our growth rates haven't diminished at all, and i think we've had a really extraordinary success advancing the ball for personal privacy. >> host: do you think those 50% of people who changed their privacy settings, did they make their data more open, or did they actually retreat and try to hide their data, if you will? >> guest: well, some did both, but the great majority actually set a privacy setting, and by that i mean they went from, say, not putting any setting in place to actually putting a barrier in place, excuse me. a barrier in place for their data to be shared with other people. so when i read this as somebody who's been part of the privacy debate for a very long time, i think this says that people understood what was going on, they understood what the choices were, they understood they had tools, and they chose